Sunday, August 26, 2012

Being Giving Without Being a Dope

How can you be a kind, giving person without being taken advantage of?

There are three thoughts I have on this, based on observations of how Jesus dealt with people in the Gospels.

1. Learn to differentiate between people who are in need and people who are needy, demanding, or manipulative.  There are people who are genuinely in need.  Jesus helped those people.  But then there are people who are users.  There are people who enjoy getting their way and getting others to give-in.  And there are some people who are manipulative and don't even know it -self-absorbed and adept at denial, blame-shifting, and finding people to affirm them and tell them how wonderful they are that.

2. Learn to identify what the real need is.  The real need is not always what the other person advertises for.  Even in the case of a needy or demanding or manipulative person, their real need is obviously not that you acquiesce to their whims.  It may be that you say "No" to them while still showing them kindness and respect.

3. Pick your battles.  While it is certainly right to stand up to people who want to take advantage of you, sometimes it isn't a battle worth fighting and placating them is the quickest way to get away from them, which is what you really want.  This is hard for people who make being taken advantage of a matter of their own ego, but if you can pick your battles with wisdom and accept that some people are just going to take a bite out of you (and that the effort of trying to stop them or seek justice may not be worth it), you will be freer.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is it wrong to think you're right?

A major faux pas today is to insist that your religious beliefs are exclusively right and true.  It can even be considered "extreme" or "cultic" to some, even to some very dear friends and family members.  As soon as they find out that I believe in something that strongly, they immediately avoid the subject at all costs and probably think I'm a little weird.

But there are a few problems with this.  First, the faux pas implies a belief itself, a belief concerning religious and moral truth.  That belief is essentially: it is wrong, even dangerous, to think that you have the exclusive truth on God and things of that sort.  But this belief is just that... a religious belief, even if it doesn't have a name like "Christian".  And it is a belief that the person believes is true, with things in contradiction to it by definition being false.  Otherwise, they would not look at a Mormon or a Christian and say, "They go too far when they think they alone have the truth."  In other words, this person is guilty of the same thing they accuse the Mormons and Christians of -having a belief concerning religious truth which they claim and believe is ultimately true.  Let's call this belief-set "religious pluralism."

I realize these folks don't mean it this way, but it is at least slightly hypocritical -to be guilty of the same thing you accuse others of doing and being wrong for.  But it gets a little worse.  Many people who believe this way also do not like having religious people "push their beliefs on them."  Granted, if one is discussing religious matters with another person, there is obviously a point where you need to give it up when you see they aren't interested or don't want to hear it.  But one cannot get around the fact that people will be "spreading" and "imposing" their religious beliefs, moral beliefs, and worldview on others regularly.  These folks do it, for example, every time they tell a religious person that they are wrong for spreading their beliefs around.  While folks like this don't show up at my doorstep uninvited to tell me about their beliefs, they can at times be just as "imposing" as the religious people, sometimes worse (for example, the mass secularization of public schools is simply the imposition of different beliefs, not the removal of belief).

Next, two things should be stated that are common sense when you think about it.  Truth claims are exclusive.  It doesn't mean a body of claimed truths cannot have things in common with a different body of claimed truths.  But it does mean that if you take one truth claim it will by definition mean that, if true, other truth claims that contradict are false.  Four plus four is eight, and that means it isn't three.  The other thing is that a belief necessarily implies that you actually believe it -otherwise it wouldn't be a belief.  Common sense, no?  So, to claim that it is strange to believe something and believe that thing is true is ridiculous.  If you didn't believe it was true, you wouldn't "believe" it.  The point here is that you cannot get away from people having beliefs (truth claims), having those beliefs be exclusive of other beliefs, and having those beliefs be believed to be really true by that person.  That is just reality for everyone, unless you are a stump or a rock or a frog.

Lastly, as mentioned above, the statement "it is wrong, extreme, or cultic to believe that your religious beliefs are right and others wrong" reflects a religious belief, one that the person believes is right and one they believe others ought to hold to.  It is part of a belief-set, as there are other beliefs that often go along with this belief.  Here are a few:

-Religion should be a completely private thing, often compartmentalized from the rest of life.
-Life is basically existentially individualistic.  This means that truth and reality and meaning are what I make of them in my individual existence.
-If there is a God, he doesn't care about what I believe or why.  He only cares that I try to live my life generally as a good person.  I define what that means and what I think God is like or should be like.
-Religious truth, especially, is a matter of personal preference and utility.  What matters is how it helps my life and how it makes me feel.

I'm not even going to take the time to answer these beliefs or disprove them.  That is not the point of this article.  The point is to dispel the myth that folks who believe in these ways are any different from anyone else.  They have a set of beliefs, they believe them to the exclusion of differing beliefs, and they think it is right or best for others to believe as they do (or for people who disagree with them to leave them alone).

Saturday, August 04, 2012


Some of us live our lives to avoid rejection.  We dread it.  We live lives of unrest and torment and rumination and anxiety because we want to control all the outcomes to avoid it.  What can be said for rejection?  Here are some things God reminded me of this morning.

Rejection is unfortunately a part of this world.  It is a rejecting world.  It will happen sooner or later -in big or small ways.  Therefore, it is necessary that you learn to accept rejection as part of even your life.  Not everyone will like you, and not everyone will think you are "good enough" for what they want -it is not possible.  Even the Son of Man, the King of Kings, experienced rejection in this world, and He was and is perfect!  The sooner you accept rejection as part of life, rather than desperately trying to clamp down and control and avoid it, the better.

Like with many things in life, the more you try to control it the more you will be torturing yourself.  You will find yourself avoiding the pain and neurotically milling over things, comparing yourself to your "replacement" or anticipating how this person will feel when they find a replacement, and living in constant, anxious anticipation of it.  And all of it for nothing but to punish you.  All of it because of some illusion of control which keeps you imprisoned in your juices rather than grieving the loss and moving on.

Rejection hurts.  Of course it does.  It marks the end of a bond.  It marks a death, a real loss.  It marks the death of a relationship.  It marks the death of a position and status you familiarly held in someone's life -perhaps the position of being the other person's "one and only," the one they chose above all others.  It marks the death of dreams and the death of your vision for potential with another person.  It casts a monochromatic shadow over the past -things you enjoyed, times you shared.  It can make all your long efforts feel for naught -like the only reason you tried so hard for so long was because you hoped resolution and newness and goodness were just right around the corner waiting for you.  It can highlight your mistakes, making you feel foolish even for entering the relationship to begin with.

But rejection offers you an opportunity.  Though it hurts, though there is grief, it offers you the potential for newness.  It offers you a time to regroup, to soberly look at things you want to change in yourself and in your life.  It offers you a chance for something new.  After all, as painful as it is you cannot change how that other person thinks or feels, so why would you want to be with someone who doesn't want you, who thinks they can find better (or maybe thinks they already have)?  Would that not be torture in itself?  You cannot find a better relationship while you hold onto the dead one.  Death must pass before there is resurrection.

There is a kind of death and resurrection in rejection, if we will let it, if we will let others have the freedom to reject us and leave us, and if we will let ourselves grieve through the death.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Real Relationship

What is a real relationship?  There are many kinds of relationships.  In a strict sense, it could be argued that I had a relationship, a "relating", with a waitress at Applebees when she greeted me, took my order, gave me my food, and then I paid her.  But what makes a close relationship, a close emotional relationship?  How can we define it?

I believe a good definition is that a true and close emotional relationship involves two people being truly and fully themselves to the other person in alliance and communion.  Each comes truly forward, as their true core selves, to meet with the other, to ally for the good of the other, and to remain and dwell in that communion.  This is what God has had with Himself since eternity past in the Trinity -Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And this is what Jesus came to initiate with us as He came into this world as one of us, to live and die and rise from the grave for us.  Granted, real life isn't perfect, but I should hope we can agree that this is the goal of a close emotional relationship.

Then why is it that so many relationships that are supposed to be close emotional relationships, or which we call close relationships, are more like "arrangements"?  Arrangements are action-based.  You act in this way, and I will guarantee this response.  You act in that way, and I will guarantee that response.  The response may be good and healthy.  The may response may be abusive or destructive.

Some people live for years in "close" relationships that amount, in many ways, to an arrangement in which they live to do what the other person wants so that the other perosn will not hurt them, reject them, or abandon them.  "If I do well enough, they will love me," is how it goes.  They may be in abusive relationships, but even if not for whatever reason they prefer to hide behind a wall, believing they are protecting themselves, while they lob gifts of good deeds and actions over the wall, hoping they placate the other person.  Perhaps they were hurt badly or perhaps they just learned by observation and assume that this is what a relationship actually is.

Many people relate to God like this, not realizing how they are sabotaging a real relationship with Him.  Again, maybe they have been in abusive or abandoning relationships in the past, and therefore they have decided to never be hurt like that again.  Their solution has been to wall themselves off in a coffin of sorts while they try to control whoever comes close to them, being preoccupied with their performance and if it is good enough for God or whoever.

Has it never dawned on us that God chose to save us by grace, removing our "good deeds" from the picture?  Religious people don't understand this.  It seems foreign to them.  But I see that God chose to send Jesus to die for our sins, to cover for them, and to bring us back into relationship with Him by grace because that is really the only way.  Otherwise, we would be preoccupied with our "good works" and if we were doing enough to keep Him happy (and many Christians *do* live like that!).  But that sabotages the whole thing.

But there are others live for years in "close" relationships that amount, in many ways, to an arrangement in which they expect all their fantasies and wishes and desires be met by the other person, and when the other person fails to meet those "needs" they punish them in a litany of ways.  They, like many of the other people, are living behind a wall and may have erroneously learned that this is what a relationship actually is.  They consciously or unconsciously believe that having control by force and abuse, rather than by withdrawal and performance, is the name of the game.

This is what I think can be so destructive about "need-based" counseling for marriages.  It promotes the idea that relationships amount essentially to a collection of actions with another person that either gives me what I want or does not give me what I want (or conversely, that a relationship is about me keeping the other person by performing the right actions in the right ways).  But the real issue isn't how these "needs" are met or not met.  The real issue is about the closeness.  If the closeness is there, the rest can be learned or where it cannot be learned perfectly there will still be love and acceptance because actions and performance do not rule the day -closeness does

And you know... ostensibly, some people can and do live in relationships where the actions of the other person are good enough for them, but that doesn't mean they have a real close relationship.

Are your close relationships more like arrangements or true close relationships?